NASA completed a $150 million experiment on Saturday to test new technology that will bring spacecraft, and eventually astronauts, to Mars. Though the parachute got tangled on the way down, the experiment was declared a success.
According to the AP, the experiment is the first of three involving the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator vehicle. Here's an explanation of the procedure—which was conducted at a high altitude on Earth, to mimic descent through the atmosphere on Mars—from the AP:
A balloon hauled the saucer-shaped craft 120,000 feet into the sky from a Navy missile range on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Then, the craft's own rocket boosted it to more than 30 miles high at supersonic speeds.
As the craft prepared to fall back to earth, a doughnut-shaped tube around it expanded like a Hawaiian puffer fish, creating atmospheric drag to dramatically slow it down from Mach 4, or four times the speed of sound.
Then the parachute unfurled - but only partially. The vehicle made a hard landing in the Pacific Ocean.
NASA engineer Dan Coatta told the AP that engineers are looking at the parachute mishap as a way to "learn more and apply that knowledge during future tests," rather than a problem. (A good way to look at all of our own probl—ah, learning experiences!) He continued:
In a way, that's a more valuable experience for us than if everything had gone exactly according to plan.
A ship was then sent to recover from the parachute a black box with a GPS beacon containing flight data that "scientists are eager to analyze."
[image via AP]